Technology: Hey, It’s Only As Good As the User

arrow near fuel pump iconWhenever I drive an unfamiliar car, I rely on luck to determine where the fuel filler cap is located. So I was surprised when my novice teen driver told me to check the little arrow near the fuel pump icon on the gas gauge.
It’s located inside the image or right beside it, at least on most newer cars. The arrow points to the side of the car with the filler cap.

It was an empowering discovery, until I recalled all the times I pulled the wrong side of a car next to the gas tanks at a service station.  So much for even giving the appearance of intelligence. But the example made me wonder.

If it’s so easy to overlook the obvious, what else are we missing? Or do we get confused just because someone failed to give us enough information?

Technology, for example, is supposed to make life easier. But sometimes, it just complicates it.

Consider my experience with Microsoft Word 2003, the word processing software I thought I’d mastered. Early last month, I tried to open some of my older files. But I couldn’t get any of them to open. After repeated unsuccessful efforts to correct the problem, including running utility programs and my anti-virus software, I stumbled on the answer.

The files wouldn’t open because Microsoft incorporated a change in a recent security update that changed the computer registry. The update, Office 2003 Service Pack 3, arbitrarily blocked a long list of word-processing file formats, including Word 6.0 and Word 97 for Windows, and Word 2004 for Macintosh. It also blocked older versions of Excel, PowerPoint, Lotus Notes, Corel Quattro spreadsheet and Corel Draw graphics.

It would’ve been nice to know that in advance. Microsoft later released a fix. But by then I was too annoyed to use it. I just got around the problem by installing OpenOffice, which is free to download, use and share. Even better, it opened the old documents that Office 2003 suddenly blocked.

The point is that technology should solve problems, not create new ones…even for those of us who are likely to overlook the obvious.

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